Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Classical Concert Previews: Kremerata Baltica, American Symphony Orchestra

Kremerata Baltica
92nd Street Y
Lexington Avenue and East 92nd St, New York, NY
January 30, 2014

American Symphony Orchestra
Carnegie Hall
7th Avenue and West 57th Street, New York, NY
January 31, 2014

Kremerata Baltica's new Weinberg CD
Even in New York City, it’s sometimes difficult to hear different music in our concert halls, forcing a search to find obscure or underperformed gems: thus, two concerts this week—Kremerata Baltica at the 92 nd Street Y and the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall—are like manna from heaven.

The music of Polish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg—who died in 1996 at age 76—is having a welcome renaissance, both on disc (CD releases and a Blu-ray of his powerful opera The Passenger, all on the Neos label) and onstage (Lincoln Center Festival is bringing The Passenger to Park Avenue Armory this summer).

Violinist Gidon Kremer and his stalwart ensemble Kremerata Baltica—which have recorded five of Weinberg’s haunting modernist works for a February 18 release on the ECM label—perform January 30 at the 92nd St Y. On disc, Kremer and his cohorts play Weinberg’s virtuosic but humane music with a lot of passion, which will surely be in abundance on the 92nd Street Y stage: in addition to Weinberg’s Concertino and Symphony No. 10, the concert comprises Arvo Part’s Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten, Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, and Dmitri Shostakovich’s rarely-heard chamber opera, Antiformal Rayok.

Britten and Bridge, circa 1930
The American Symphony Orchestra’s artistic director, Leon Botstein, routinely curates the best classical programs in the city, and his orchestra’s January 31 Carnegie Hall performance is no exception. This England takes last year’s Britten Centenary as its jumping-off point to explore other avenues of 20th century British music, which is full of riches far beyond what’s usually heard from Britten and Edward Elgar.

Botstein has chosen carefully and well. Sir Arthur Bliss may have composed more memorable works than his score for the sci-fi movie Things to Come, but it’s certainly a tuneful diversion; Frank Bridge’s piano concerto Phantasm (with soloist Piers Lane) is a masterpiece, Robert Simpson’s Volcano is a solid left-field pick and William Walton’s Symphony No. 2, while not up to his glorious first symphony, is always worth hearing. I for one would have loved to hear other eminent composers as Arnold Bax, Lennox Berkeley, Alan Rawsthorne or the seriously undervalued Malcolm Arnold and Edmund Rubbra, but Botstein’s picks demonstrate the depth and variety of England’s overlooked musical heritage.

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